A recent 10-day statewide crackdown on drivers who send or receive text messages on their cell phones resulted in dozens of citations, but officials say there are some gray areas that make enforcing the law a challenge.
The Kansas Highway Patrol issued 56 texting-and-driving citations during the enforcement action. Patrol spokesman Lt. Josh Kellerman said the agency plans to have another crackdown soon.
While the 3-year-old law is making drivers safer, it requires law enforcement to observe drivers carefully to confirm that they’re using their phone to do something they’re not allowed to do, Kellerman told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
“I cannot take that phone from you and look at it,” Kellerman said. “So the part of law enforcement of really paying attention and building your case to make that stop is really important.”
Kansas law allows officers to give tickets to drivers who “write, send or receive a written communication” while in motion, including the use of social media like Facebook or Twitter or “any time that phone is transmitting any type of data.”
A measure introduced in the Kansas House that didn’t get a hearing would have clarified that the law does not apply to drivers who are typing in a phone number to make a call.
That’s how the highway patrol already reads the law, Kellerman said, which is part of what complicates enforcement.
“When I pull up to your car I’ve got to see what you’re doing, so it can be hard to enforce, but when I pull up alongside you and see you driving with your knees, you’re not dialing a phone number,” Kellerman said.
Cars that swerve out of their lanes, remain stopped when lights turn green or whose drivers spend a long time looking down at their hands also are tip-offs, he said.
But taking a picture while driving, just as dangerous as texting, may not be technically illegal under the current law as long as the driver does not send the photo to someone or post it online.
“It could be a gray area,” Kellerman said. “We hope you’re going to pull over and take that picture, because that’s about as distracted as you can get, taking your eyes off the road to take a picture.”
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association says 37 states and Washington, D.C., ban all cell phone use by “novice drivers,” while 12 states and D.C. ban all hand-held cellphone use by all drivers.
Kansas has a ban for novice drivers on a learner’s permit or intermediate driver’s license, but has no hand-held ban.
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